CRM History

Let’s bore you with a brief history of CRM.

Ape2manLet’s take a nostalgic lope down CRM Lane. In the  beginning there was PIM, or Personal Information Manager – a limited use, all purpose electronic diary with basic database functionality, that you could use to start organizing your names and addresses, and time, amongst other things. These PIM’s are good personal productivity tools, but they tend to fall over when applied in a business environment with a more demanding requirement.

The PIM slowly morphed into the CMS, or Contact Management System, as a result of its increasing take on by people in sales and marketing, incorporating a more specific set of requirements to help them scale the coalface. Contact Managers are fantastic, flexible productivity tools for most anybody or organization. They are also more robust, with improved industrial strength database engines, that are better able to manage larger volumes of data.

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Contact Management software became SFA, as in Sales Force Automation systems, what now forms the cornerstone of modern CRM applications. CRM is short for Customer Relationship Management, which is the industry term for the set of methodologies and tools that help an enterprise manage customer relationships in an organized way.

Not to mention that some mutated into ERM, sometimes referred to as eCRM (electronic Customer Relationship Management), PRM, with Pro and Lite versions of everything to take products in and out of their respective weight divisions. Not to be confused with ERP, as in Enterprise Resource Planning that is back-end stuff; CRM is front-end. ERP is infamous for negative ROI and implementations that run waaay over budget. Not always so with CRM!

Enter Microsoft, who had been watching developments, with more than passing interest, from the sidelines, with Microsoft Outlook. Once they felt that this sector had now come of age and entered the domain of mainstream software ie. their domain, it was time to make their foray; their hostile move into this space.

The CRM world trembled! But without too much justification, it turns out. Microsoft had, and still has, a bit to learn about CRM. If anything they helped grow the CRM market by creating further awareness of the benefits of CRM.

Many of the legacy CRM applications – those that have been around for quite a while and started out in life as Contact Managers or even lowly PIM‘s in the good ol’, bad ol’ DOS days – pre-date email and the internet. They constantly had to re-invent themselves as trends dictated.

It was adapt or die, and there were many casualties – some were swallowed up by others or bought out by competitors, only to be put straight out to pasture, eliminated because of their nuisance value. Others couldn’t take the heat and slowly disappeared off the radar, leaving their users high-and-dry or ‘data hostages’.

Others again died, or are dying, from the insidious death of bloatware malaise, the software equivalent of obesity ie. adding features for the sake of adding features. Rather than listening to what the customer actually needs, which, in most cases, is simply a more stable product, developers are often more concerned about outdoing their opposition, and end up losing the plot as a consequence! Watch my lips – less features, better performance.

Some, however, are still around to tell the tale some 20+ years, or 200 Soft Years later.

ACT! is one of those. It was a real looker in its day and has managed to gracefully withstand the ravages of old age. Act! 3.0 could open DDF, CCD, TXT, CSV, DTF, WPA, DOC, WPD, REP, LBL, ENV, RPT, and TPL files, and even import Act! 3.0 DBF,BASE III-V, Q&A 4.0-5.0 data, and delimited text. Yawn, er Wow! (And you’re welcome to make up your own meanings for those acronyms.) It has now evolved into a product that is quite comfortable in its duty of managing the clients of small businesses.

Other survivors in this genre are Goldmine, Maximizer and TeleMagic, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. CRM history would be incomplete with mentioning these products. As the sign in our school library read, “New Books Are Good, Old Books Are Often Better” Just replace ‘books’ with ‘software’. (But bearing in mind these products pre-dated the internet and email, so they weren’t purpose built for todays applications).

Spare a thought for poor Polaris Packrat, or more importantly, their users. Fantastic Contact Manager in the DOS days, and they even successfully negotiated their way to their first Windows version – no small undertaking. Then they released their networkable version for Windows. Disaster struck! They had to, ala Firestone, recall their products, and disappeared, never to be heard of again. Sad, but true.

Moral of the story – don’t transfer your QA budget to Marketing.

Janna Contact was swallowed whole by Siebel. Not even a little burp. Funny, it looked a lot like a Microsoft product; the package even had blue and white clouds floating across it, like the Microsoft boxes at the time.

Coming to think of it, what ever happened to Lotus Organizer? Things seem to have gone rather quiet from that quarter, too. Cash cow? Lotus Organizer, with it’s FiloFax-like appearance on screen, did a good job of getting one’s mind adjusted to working the new, electronic way. Most of the good PIM’s and Contact Managers printed out in FiloFax format, and many people still work using both. It works well for some, and you don’t always want to schlep your notebook across town anyway.

At the end of the day, the definition of CRM lies in the eyes of the beholder. ( See some definitions of CRM here..) MS Outlook certainly doesn’t fit the definition of CRM by a long chalk, but many Outlook users will tell you that that is their preferred, and perceived, CRM solution. No, not even MS BCM or MS CRM. They might not even be aware that MS BCM is included with their pirated copy of MS Office 2003. One can just see Messrs. Siebel, Gates and Larry Ellison of Oracle rolling their eyes heavenwards.

It’s their new breed of products though, that, along with a host of others, have collectively redefined CRM. These grid-iron corporate offerings strive to give corporations the nirvana of a ‘unified’ view of their clients across the enterprise.

Fortunately these high-end, high priced products are outside the scope of our website. SmallBizCRM is intended for small businesses looking for CRM solutions for up to approximately 20 users, or where products like MS Exchange Server become a necessity.

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